The children are not doing well
Blog article by Mary Ruud, Milwaukee, USA
About the growing need to understand trauma-informed pedagogy.
Many children have experienced years of trauma just for attending school, feeling bullied or simply not seen for who they are, not meeting standards set by the state or their own teachers, peer pressure for relationships, drugs, and sex, and loneliness due to media overload. Do they know that school is no longer safe? For children, trauma can be any deeply stressful experience and its short- and long-term effects. Young children are anxious and often reflect the stress and worry of their parents. Teens are aware of environmental fragility and unsafe schools where violence cannot be prevented.
The concept of trauma-informed care in the United States began in the 1970s when post-traumatic stress disorder was recognized in Vietnam War veterans. In the 1980s, awareness was raised about the impact of trauma on children and the consequences for families and society. Initiatives were developed at the federal, state, and local levels to address the needs of children and families affected by trauma. Because early intervention is so important, agencies screened for trauma as early as school admissions. Protocols were developed and grants were made available for programs, conferences, and training.
From “What’s wrong” to “What happened”
In the 1980s Schools began to develop training and courses to best work with children and youth suffering from the effects of trauma. To do this, programs developed in social work were adapted to schools, and schools recognized the need for physical and psychological safety. In a program developed by Lesley University and Harvard Law School in 2005, all school-based education, teachers, administration, and support staff work together to implement the same ideas that support students who have experienced or are experiencing trauma. The program is focused on safety, collaboration, trust, and empowerment of all stakeholders. It was found that In the schools where these programs were implemented, the success of all students was increased as one student's trauma also impacted the entire group. Collaboration between teachers and staff was critical to student success.
When working with children who have experienced trauma, a paradigm shift has taken place. It is no longer a question of "what is wrong with you" but rather "what happened to you." A trauma-informed view seeks underlying explanations for behavior and feelings. Safety is important, especially emotional safety. As the student moves from one teacher to another, the goals and expectations must be similar, providing a context for the student to heal from the effects of trauma and improve their social and emotional well-being to prevent further trauma. This is why collaboration in a school setting is so important!
The Milwaukee Urban Waldorf School experiment
At the beginning of the inner-city public Urban Waldorf School in 1991, many difficult and traumatised students were handed over to us as a new school, and the first fifth class consisted only of students who had been expelled from other schools and had no placement. Brand new, just opened, with no particular plan, we decided that each of the fifth graders should have another adult and an alternative place to go when the classroom became impossible for them.
Some who were coded went to their special education teachers, but most were sent to another class or to a special education teacher, they went to kindergarten or even to the head of maintenance. Students were eventually able to decide on their own if they wanted to leave their classroom and go to their alternative teacher. All 28 students successfully completed fifth grade, and none were lost to us. This commitment to collaboration gave students a sense of being supported by a whole school and allowed them to form important relationships-another important factor in safety and well-being.
In working with students who have been or are continuing to be traumatized, one can think of the words of Orland Bishop, heard so often in his presentations: we need to create a "sanctuary." A sanctuary requires a space where no one is judged, but where you are respected regardless of what behaviors you exhibit.
This can be exhausting for teachers, and it requires times for breaks, for breathing out, for a change, for interrupting the disruption. There's a saying from the women's movement, "If you can't create change, you create disruption." We see this in all demonstrations for change. What needs to be changed? How do I change things the way they need to be right now?
I recently attended a workshop with Dr. Steven Dyksra, the coordinator of Milwaukee County Childrens' Community Mental Health Services. His main question is the Parcival question, "How are you doing? Are you okay?" We let go of judgment, refrain from punishment, and don't think we're just rewarding bad behavior. "How did things go so wrong? What do you need?" Empathy rather than authority is needed.
Another important idea from Orland Bishop is to create an agreement, an understanding of shared goals that is focused on the future. Both Orland and Dr. Dykstra can tell of crisis situations where a meaningful relationship with an adult saved the day.
Eurythmy can’t do it alone
The biggest challenge when working with traumatized students is disruptive behaviors that make learning difficult in the classroom. This is why the child is often referred to me. It has been my experience that eurythmy often works very well with these students in individual sessions or small groups. However, when the children return to the classroom, they may not feel welcome and may be retraumatized.
Children spend up to eight hours a day in our schools, and even more if they are in an after-school program. If we are not aware of the behavioral problems that result from trauma, we will re-traumatize children. This is why it is important for schools and teachers to work with trauma-sensitive awareness. Since we cannot cover everything, we need to know where in our community to refer students to professional counselors for crisis stabilization.
The exploration of how eurythmy can help with trauma will continue, e.g in the Eurythmy4you Online Conference on Post-traumatic Growth. An international panel of speakers and workshop leaders share what they have discovered or how they themselves have had to deal with overcoming trauma.
Article by Mary Ruud for the Newsletter of ATHENA Association for Therapeutic Eurythmy in North America. Picture: Proud Alumni of Urban Waldorf Public School (Facebook profile picture).
- Bernd Ruf, Educating Traumatized Children, Waldorf Education in Crisis Intervention. Lindisfarne Books, 2013.
- Denver University, Office of Teaching and Learning, responding-to-trauma-in-the-classroom
- Harvard Law School and Lesley University, A Guide to Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools. Two booklets. www.traumasensitiveschools.org